Listen CLOSE

March 21, 2018
by
4 mins read

Anyone with a stake in the local Florida music scene will recognize the name Kaleigh Baker. Though she grew up in western New York, Baker has called Orlando home for years. And recently, the bluesy singer-songwriter has stepped back from nonstop nationwide touring to recalibrate her career and her definition of success, focusing on local shows, TV and film licensing, and listening rooms like Jacksonville Beach’s Blue Jay. “I love that room,” Baker says. “I’ve been playing music around the country for 10 years and my show there last November was definitely Top 10.”

Folio Weekly: How’d you first find out about Blue Jay Listening Room?
Kaleigh Baker: After I caught wind of Blue Jay, Cara Burky and my manager had a little back-and-forth conversation trying to get a date nailed down. I was at Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, and I met a girl riding around in a golf cart with a big bottle of bourbon. It turned out to be Cara, and as we rode around in the golf cart talking about music, we realized, “Oh, we’ve been talking to each other via a middleman.” We were able to get a date nailed down right there, and even though I hadn’t played Jacksonville in forever, this new venue was already popular enough that I had a full room of people wanting to hear me and Matt Walker. Then when we got there, I realized that it’s pretty much the best-sounding room that I’ve ever played. Plus, the crowd is made up of music lovers—people who are there for the music, paying to listen to me. I don’t have to worry about if I’m going to get invited back because I didn’t sell enough alcohol. I can instead sell my story and my music. Burned right into the wood on the stage at your feet are the words, “Tell us your story. We are listening.” That’s amazing.

You’re from New York. How did you end up in Florida?
My family vacationed in Florida every year—my grandmother had a timeshare in the Daytona Beach area. I did a year of college up in Buffalo and started playing music during that time, but after my brother moved to Florida, I went, too. I’m a Yankee and an alabaster-skinned woman, so the sun and I don’t get along too well. But I like Florida. I like all the water. More important, out of all the places I’ve lived, Orlando has the best music scene across the board. My home is the Mills 50 District—Will’s Pub, Lil Indies, Dirty Laundry, St. Matt’s Tavern—that’s really where it’s happening for me.

Your last album, Weary Hour, came out in 2015. Have you been working on new original material?
I’m trying to figure out what the concept of a career is without tainting the integrity of my music. Over the last year-and-a-half, I’ve been writing music specifically for film and television. It’s a whole different facet of creativity—you try to find something formulaic for the purpose of financial gain. I’ve been writing tunes with my producer Justin Beckler, who did both of my solo records, The Weight of It All and Weary Hour. But it’s a whole different creative process writing a song from scratch that’s specifically for licensing. With my full band The Enablers, we’ve been playing some of these songs, turning them into something completely different. So it’s a cool process.

And one that’s allowed you to focus primarily on shows in and around Florida, right?
Absolutely. I’ve been off the road now for about two years. Again, going back to that concept of a career, I was on the road so much, and I don’t know that that necessarily does anything except build a data bank of numbers and venues in hopes of getting an agent who can get you on bigger festivals. I took my mom on tour with me once—she wanted to take a detour on the way to Florida to visit my little brother in Texas—and in that moment, I realized, “Oh, man, my mom’s gonna realize I’m actually a deadbeat. I play more empty rooms than I do full rooms.” [Laughs.] As a young artist, I felt like it was important to almost beat myself up in that sense, and that’s not the way people do it now. Today, if you make a really great music video with something kitschy in it, then you’ll get a million clickbait views. That’s what matters now, and that’s something I’m trying not to get wrapped up in.

Besides your own music, what else are you wrapped up in now?
The people I’m surrounded with. In the past year or so, I’ve also been listening to a lot of older honky-tonk and outlaw country—not today’s pop version of country. I’m inspired by the simplicity of no-bullshit songwriting. No more of these long, jammy 12-minute songs with no climaxes that you hear at festivals. Listening to the old stuff is helping me get away from that.

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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